MOGADISHU, Somalia—Islamist militants detonated a truck bomb Tuesday in front of the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu, killing at least 70 people, wounding dozens and shattering a relative calm that had prevailed in the Somali capital for weeks.
The bomb blew up after coming to a halt at a security checkpoint. It left blackened corpses on the debris-strewn street and set other vehicles alight. Uniformed soldiers were seen dragging the wounded away. Ali Muse, the chief of Mogadishu's ambulance service, said that at least 70 people died and at least 42 others were wounded. The al Qaeda-linked group al Shabab immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack on a website it uses.
It was the biggest attack in Somalia's capital since al Shabab withdrew most of its forces in August amid an offensive by African Union forces. The group had been expected to fight back with guerrilla-style attacks, including car bombs. Several car bombs have been defused or exploded before reaching their targets in recent weeks.
Ali Hussein, a police officer in Mogadishu, said the vehicle blew up after pulling up to a checkpoint at the entrance to the Ministry of Education.
Suicide bombings were unheard of in Somalia before 2007 but have become increasingly frequent. Al Shabab claims allegiance to al Qaeda, which often uses car bombs and appears bent on gaining a foothold in the Horn of Africa.
Al Shabab includes militant veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts who have trained Somalis in tactics like suicide bombs and sniper fire. The group carried out a double suicide bombing in Uganda in July 2010 that killed 76 people watching the World Cup final on television. Americans of Somali heritage also have joined the group.
In 2009, a suicide bomber attacked a university graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, killing 24 people, including three government ministers, medical students and doctors.
Somalia has endured mostly anarchy for the last two decades. Peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi compose the AU force that is shoring up the weak U.N.-backed Somali government. The nation is gripped by famine, which is mostly effecting southern parts of the country controlled by al Shabab.